4.3 million hectares of the Boreal Forest cover the tar sands, and these are being clearcut so that oil companies can access the tar underneath. The Boreal Forest has been referred to as the lungs of our planet, and tar sands operations threaten to destroy an area the size of Florida.
The Boreal Forest is a highly complex ecosystem that supports a vast array of plants and wildlife including grizzly bears, wolverine, woodland caribou and over a billion birds. It represents more than 25% of all ancient forests left on the planet and is a source of clean water for millions of Canadians. The Boreal Forest is home to hundreds of First Nations communities that depend on the forest for their sustenance, jobs and traditional activities. Many of the areas under development in the Boreal Forest are subject to land claims and disputes.
The Boreal Forest also has particular value as a storehouse of carbon, holding more than 47 billion tonnes in its trees and soils. When the forest is cut down and soils are disturbed by heavy machinery, carbon from this storehouse is released into the atmosphere, further exacerbating global warming. Unfortunately unsustainable development, including the tar sands, is taking its toll on the Boreal Forest. For example, woodland caribou, a species threatened with extinction, have seriously declined in Alberta as a result of the loss of their habitat in the Boreal Forest.